Kalimbas

kalimbas at home

The name Kalimba (which means “little music”) was coined by english/south african ethnofolkmusicologist Hugh Tracey in the 1950s when he designed, manufactured, and merchandized the instrument commonly found in stores.

youtube playlist of anarchestra kalimbas

Kalimba

The native african instrument he derived it from was the Mbira (which has existed for 3000 years originally with bamboo tines and later with the now standard metal ones).  I have chosen to use Tracey’s name for the instruments I make out of respect for the Shona tradition of Mbira, which I have studied but am not connected with.

cosmas magaya

Cosmas Magaya with a Shona Mbira.

One of my favorite and most listened to CDs

http://www.nonesuch.com/albums/zimbabwe-shona-mbira-music

It is sometimes called a thumb piano.

Culturally, it is an instrument that, unlike any others I know of, has no primitive ’cousins’ outside of its continent of origin, Africa.

They don’t readily fit in any of the standard categories of instruments (both Kalimbas and Xylophone-type instruments end up not completely comfortably in the ‘percussion’ group as idiophones).

Among the many interesting qualities they possess are their unique ergonomics (no other instrument is played primarily by the thumbs —which is a very efficient and natural action outside of music, as in texting) and the inharmonicity (the degree to which the frequencies of overtones -also known as partials- depart from whole multiples of the fundamental frequency in the harmonic series) of the sounds produced by the tines.  In some musical circles inharmonicity is considered undesirable as it undermines the ‘purity’ of the equal tempered system, but for someone like me it adds richness, depth, and complexity to the soundworld.

When I first began building instruments, I started with Kalimbas.  They are physically simple and endlessly adaptable/variable/amenable to experimentation.  I have made dozens of them over time.

These are some of them.  All of them are amplified (‘electric’): the first two with piezo pickups, the rest with magnetic pickups.

Included with them are other “free bar” (mounted at one end and free to vibrate) instruments.

lamellop 00-01 chilmark

Lamellop 00 chilmark

trinidad & tobago 02 chilmark

Trin and Tob  01-02 chilmark

pretty how town 04 santa fe

Pretty How Town  04 santa fe

kalimbent 05 santa fe

Kalimbent   05 santa fe

played with sticks rather than thumbs and fingers.

klam. 09 tucson

Klamm  09 tucson

klem 10 tucson

Klem  10 tucson

kalben cool 10 tucson

Kalben Kool   10 tucson

played with sticks rather than thumbs and fingers.

klogg 11 tucson

Klogg  11 tucson

baby K198

Baby K  15 tucson

Baby K lives on Gurnagin.

Klyd204

Klydd   15 tucson

Klydd is mounted on Stigo and is (usually) tuned an octave lower.

kzymyryk-16-tucson

Kzymyryk  16 tucson

One drone tine excited by a leather wheel.  The vertical tines can be bowed or plucked.

berlubang-17-tucson

Berlubang  17 Tucson

The perforated sheets are tunable and can be altered by placing bolts through the holes.

byg actuel 17 tucson

Byg Actuel  17 Tucson

The wheels (one smooth, on toothed) actuate various sounding objects (saws, springs, etc.)

klyad 17 tucson

Klyad  17 Tucson

Small tined (3/8″ and 1/4″) kalimba.

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Drums

03 Drums

Drums 03 Santa Fe

Drums are pretty simple.  Technically they are categorized as membranophones.

playlist of anarchestra drums on youtube

A membrane (traditionally an animal hide) stretched to tautness over a frame will generate sound when it is excited to vibrate (usually struck with a hand or a stick).  Its thickness, stiffness, tightness, surface area, etc. will determine what sort of sound waves (in terms of loudness and pitch) it generates.

When a body is connected to the membrane, its shape, size, and open or closedness will tend to amplify particular frequencies within the generated waves and suppress others.  Tubes will tend to support specific frequencies (based on their lengths) and bowls will tend to do the opposite.

In addition to these factors, how and with what the membranes are struck influence the sound.

The technology of drum making is simply about finding a way or ways of tensioning the head.  Most of the time this is done by stretching the skin around a hoop and then tensioning it with a rim.  More traditionally it was done by attaching the wet skin to the body and allowing it to shrink to tautness, or by tightening the skin with some sort of lacing.

My musical intent with most of these drums was to provide lower register beat patterns with a minimum of tonal information.  More often than not I want drums to thump rather than crack.  This keeps them sonically out of the way of middle register instruments and (to me anyway) provide more of a rooted sense of beat than conventional (plastic headed) drums do.  Plastic heads give a lot of bounce and facilitate fast playing (lots of rolls), but they lack the kind of ‘depth’ in sound that animal hides provide.  My primary agenda with drums is a bit removed from the conventional function (providing fills and accents) of rock and jazz kits.  Every instrument functions as a drum (insofar as they are played with rhythm in mind), so I prefer to use the subdivided beats (fast drumming) for parts with more tonal flexibility –metal (as in a xylophone type instrument) provides a lot of bounce too but with far more specific and varied choices of pitch and timbre.

I generally play these with rubber mallets to further limit their brightness.  This also limits the speed with which they can be played as mallets are heavier and bounce less than ordinary drumsticks.

Some of the drums I have built.

adrums 00-10 chilmark-tucson

Adrums  00-10 chilmark, santa fe, tucson

This ‘set’ evolved over time.

Thump, the lowest drum has a black leather head (the sort of thick leather used for chaps, tool belts, and durable handbags.  It’s body was (I believe) a water tank, probably from a commercial fishing boat.  It was the first drum I built that still exists.  The softness of the head and the size of the body produce a low, dull sound.

Squat, has a cowhide head with hair.  It’s body was 20lb propane tank.  The hair on its head muffles it slightly and the relative thickness of the cowhide produces a flat sound.  The closed tank dampens the sound a well.

The drum seen left front (I stopped naming individual drums) has a goatskin head with a circle of black leather glued to it.  Its body is a section cut from the lower end (including some of the curve of the rounded bottom) of a pressurized gas tank (I don’t know which gas).  The leather circle lowers the pitch and dampens the sound preventing it from ringing.  The open bottom and cylindrical shape produce a specific pitch (close to D).

The drum seen left rear has a goatskin head with hair (hair side down) and a small circle of leather glued to it.  Its body was a 14.9 cu ft helium tank.  The leather, the hair, and the closed body all dampen its sound.

 

blowdrum 02 chilmark

Blowdrum  02 chilmark

This drum has a black leather head.  Its body was a water tank.  A pipe runs from the bottom of the tank to a breathing tube.  Since the drum is airtight blowing into the tube effectively tightens the head and raises its pitch.  The black leather head produces a dull sound and (depending on the tightness of the head) a low register sweep of around a fifth is obtainable from it.

 

palindrums 08 tucson

Palindrums  08 Tucson

This ‘set’ has a pair of large dumbek shaped drums made from 20 lb propane tanks and 6” black iron drain pipe.  One has a black leather head, the other a goatskin head with hair.  The heads and the shape both contribute toward giving them a low dull sound.  The two smaller drums have thick rawhide heads and are mounted on bodies of 6” and 5” black iron drain pipe.  They have a higher, brighter, ‘wooden’ sound.

 

twolong 08 tucson

Twolong  08 Tucson

These tube drums have cowhide heads with hair mounted on 6” black iron drainpipe.  They tend to play about a half step apart depending on the tension of the heads.  The large diameter of the tubes relative to their length makes them sound more like drums than specifically pitched instruments (such as Rowotoes).

 

rowotoes 11 tucson

Rowotoes  11 Tucson

These thirteen drums produce an octave of pitches (A to A, chromatically).  The heads are rawhide held in place by muffler clamps.  The bodies were cut from 2 1/2” (I.D.) electrical conduit.  Their mountings allow them to be arranged in any order.  The stiffness of the heads produces a sharp initial attack.  These are similar in musical use to the “PVC” instruments popularized by the Blue Man Group.

 

cerb 12 tucson tamborine built by jenna francine

cerb  12 Tucson

This has parallel goatskin heads one with hair exposed, one with the haired side in, mounted on a 9” wheel hub from a garden tractor.  Its pitches can be raised by blowing into a hose attached to its valve seat.  The tamborine mounted to it was built by J.Francine Tomasello.

 

tuffram 14 tucson

Tuffram  12-14 Tucson

Tuffram is a pair of frame drums.  The larger is 17” in diameter, the smaller 14”.  Both of them have goatskin heads with hair.  Framedrums, having no enclosure tend to emphasize the way and the place the head is struck and the tension of the head.  They offer a wide range of (generally bright) sounds.

 

panzoot tucson 14

Panzoot 14 Tucson

These are a pair of steel drums tuned a fourth apart at their centers.  A few other pitches are available from other areas of the surface and along the curve of the ding.  Aside from being made by hammering out 55-gallon drums tempered in a bonfire, they don’t (and weren’t intended to) sound like traditional Trinidadian steel drums.   Panzoot played live

 

snayer 14 Tucson.

Snayer  15 Tucson

This drum uses store-bought plastic heads and snares mounted on a shop-made body.  It sounds like an ordinary snare drum.  Plastic heads give a much faster bounce-back than skin heads do and allow for faster playing (drum rolls) and a brighter attack.  I made this to play as a traditional (sit-down) drummer in a punk band and have a fair amount of ambivalence around including it as a part of Anarchestra.  I don’t love the plastic head sound, but I’ve ended up using it occasionally anyway.

Other drums (not described as they are simple variations on those already described) or drums in different arrangements.

big drum 04 santa fe blowdrum 02 chilmark

Big Drum 04 chilmark (shown with blow drum)

tubes 03 chilmark

Tubes  03 chilmark

thump & squat 00 chilmark

Thump & Squat 00 chilmark

Now included in Adrums

goatskin drums 04-06 santa fe

Goatskin drums  04-06 Santa Fe

Now included in Adrums and Smelly Old Harry

blowjob 06 santa fe music box

Blowjob  06 santa fe

eventually became a component of Adrums

bordrum 12 tucson

Bordrum 12 Tucson

Now half of Tuffram.

paired 00 chilmark

Paired  00 chilmark

smelly old harry 09 tucson

Smelly Old Harry  09 Tucson

snark 12 tucson

Snark  11 Tucson

triffid 06 santa fe music box-

Triffid  06 santa fe

Now part of Smelly Old Harry

 

thundrms-16-tucson

Thundrms  16 tucson

Steel drums (30 ga, 20 ga, 16 ga) with cowhide heads.

leatherhead 16 tucson.JPG

Leatherhead  16 Tucson

20 ga. steel drum with black leather head.  Similar to Thump but lower in pitch.